Monday, September 24, 2007

Midterms, comments, and colds

So, that was a full week. It started with BEST a weekend ago and just kept coming. A sampling of the various things that kept me so busy…

First, a few words of advice to any of you who happen to end up doing inquiries for your Dean’s Scholars Research Methods class: DO NOT decide you’re going to figure out which news topics make people angrier by copying, let me check my figures… (Daniel really does minimize Word to check his data; it’s very precise, as well as incredibly extensive…) 1621 COMMENTS!! Yes, I read all of those!! And yes, it did take forever!! About 6 total hours, actually, which is roughly 270 comments per hour. At least we know I can read quickly. The point is that this was a bad idea that took way more time than it should have last Monday and Tuesday evenings. I did get it done, though, and it had %^&* better get an “A”.

That, by the way, would be the first example this semester of me having to do homework the day before it’s due. The next example came the next day, Wednesday, when I finished that week’s chemistry and calculus work, both of which were due Thursday. Well, actually, the calculus is technically due Friday at 3:00 a.m., but for all practical purposes, that means Thursday. I try extremely hard to be asleep at 3 any morning, especially on Fridays.

That evening I went to a lecture about astronomy, which was actually fairly interesting. I even restrained myself from saying anything cynical about astronomers postulating (“guessing”, more or less) that over 95% of all the stuff in the universe is made of either ‘dark matter’ or ‘dark energy’. We know absolutely nothing about either of these. We have never even observed them. At all. But apparently there’re loads of both out there. The guy even had a detailed chart describing which of the three, dark matter, dark energy, or regular matter, was ‘dominant’ (whatever that meant; I didn’t ask about that, either) at which points in the history of the universe. So we know that ‘dark energy’ is ‘dominant’ right now, in fact, but no astronomer anywhere could tell you anything about it. Obviously, I don’t plan to go into astronomy.

I drove around and got stuff for the dorm and haircuts and such Thursday and Friday evenings. I had my hair cut by a woman that, as much as I hate to talk like this, all of you will picture easily when I say she was a “typical, slightly plump, middle-aged black woman”. And, ironic as it will sound after that extremely inclusive and non-stereotype-promoting statement, the main thing we talked about was racism. She brought it up by mentioning that black engineering students at ‘black’ colleges have more trouble getting jobs than whites at other universities. I didn’t know there was still such a thing as a ‘black’ college, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. She also, naturally, was paying very close attention to news on the “Jena 6”, the black teens in Jena, La, who have received all kinds of trumped up charges (and publicity) because a white kid who hung a noose at a high school got beaten later. Some of these “Jena 6” have very explicitly stated that they were not involved in this beating at all, which I am inclined to believe due to the utter lack of any rebuttal. Even more telling, for me, at least, is that some of them were charged with such things as “attempted murder”, which is a completely ridiculous charge for anything that happens in a school and doesn’t involve a weapon. I completely agree that whoever did beat the white kid should be brought to justice, but charging random black kids with attempted murder is absurd. The hair stylist was convinced that the school officials intentionally let the white kid off easy after he hung the noose so that the situation would get out of hand and black students would eventually get in trouble for it. I can understand the school letting the white kid of easy; he apparently only got some minor detention or something, and it’s understandable that a white principal or whatever in Louisiana would be somewhat biased. However, any black students that were involved in beating the white boy must be held responsible for it. The principal did not beat the white kid for them, which seemed to be the general implication the stylist was trying to make. A noose hanging empty and harmless in a tree can and should be ignored. I think this is leading up to me giving my dissertation on conflict prevention again…

Friday evening, Mom and Sara drove down to Austin to see me and get a goat from a smaller town a couple hours west of here. I spent that night watching “Kill Bill Volume 1” with Brian and a friend of his. It was a waste of about two and a half hours. I can get into a good action movie just as well as the next guy; I thought the Lord of the Rings movies, Transformers, and all the lightsaber battles in Star Wars were excellent. The emphasis on extreme amounts of gore completely ruined it for me, though. I entirely understand that, in theory, people and elves and orcs and such were getting nicely brutalized in LOTR, but I don’t mind not seeing all the details of the severed limbs and blood spray. And as stylized as the fighting in “Kill Bill” is, it just doesn’t compare to a good lightsaber battle. Of the topic, would any of you have guessed that “lightsaber” and “orcs” were not in the spell-checking dictionary on my computer until a minute ago? Who made this word processor, anyway? Anyway, I have concluded that Brian and I have incompatible tastes in movies, as he thought “Kill Bill” was great and seems to favor the gory horror movies. That kind of thing just seems so pointless to me.

Saturday morning I had breakfast with Mom and Sara and showed them around campus, at least as much as I could on a Saturday. Several buildings are closed on weekends. We spent a while in my room watching “Firefly” episodes they had brought with them. Good times. Firefly, for those of you who don’t know obscure sci-fi, is basically a western in space. The tech is very similar to modern stuff, if not slightly rougher, except the ship’s propulsion and power systems, which are not described in any useful amount of detail in any episode I’ve seen. The characters are really excellently played and obvious, gaping holes in the reasoning of the plot are rare. The lack of prominence of the technology also nicely keeps it from saving the day by itself too often (a common problem in such series as “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and its’ derivatives) . We then drove around getting all the useful stuff I had forgotten the previous two days and Mom and Sara had forgotten at home before having dinner. That evening, they drove on to get their goat (and no, I have no idea why they raise goats).

Also that evening, I temporarily lost my ability to think clearly due to the cold I mentioned. It had been bothering me a little since Thursday but hadn’t been a serious problem so far. That evening I just about couldn’t function. I have gotten steadily better since then, thankfully. I find it worth noting that this was only the second or third time I have gotten noticeably sick in the last three years or so. And only about a month after arriving in Austin… hmmm… Well, anyway, on an unrelated note, Yay! for living in extremely close proximity to 50,000 people with no sanitary habits.

Sunday I had lunch with Mom and Sara as they came back through Austin, did a fair amount of homework, and learned that they had, in fact, bought seven goats, not one. I don’t understand. And that’s about all I have to say on that.

My first few midterm exams are this week. Chemistry tomorrow and physics Wednesday, both in the evening. Nothing too bad so far; calculus will be the interesting one, and that’s next Monday.

I know I promised another big rant about conflict, but I want this one to be really good. It will be my next post and will come soon, I promise.

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